How to Build a Startup Culture In Your City

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When you are hearing solid gold wisdom but don’t have a notepad handy, you take notes in the speaker’s book!
I make no secret about the fact that one of my life’s passion is entrepreneurship. But another great passion and pride is for my city (Oklahoma City) and state (Oklahoma).

I’m an Okie through and through. I love what’s happening here and want to see my community thrive as we build and support the Oklahoma startup tech culture.

So when an entrepreneurial leader like Brad Feld comes to town to talk about building startup culture in your city, I had to clear my schedule and find a way to meet him this week.

He’s the co-founder of TechStars, a startup accelerator originally started in Boulder and now in many other cities (which is an example for our city’s two new startup accelerators).

I’ve got his first two books Do More Faster and Venture Deals (they’re awesome) … and coincidentally had just recently bought and started devouring his latest one Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City before hearing about his visit.

(By the way, it goes without saying, but these are THE three books to put on your list if you’re wanting to build a great startup, get venture capital funding and support the entrepreneurial community in your city.)

We also share something in common … we’re both Wiley authors.

Anyway, I had the opportunity last night to meet Brad and also hear him talk at a meet and greet sponsored by Blueprint for Business.

Everything I knew about him was confirmed if not multiplied.

He’s made his money (enough of it to kick back on a beach and never do another thing for life) but he travels, speaks, writes and invests out of an immense passion for entrepreneurship. I can’t tell you how many times I heard him offer his email address out freely on stage and in person. (And yes, Brad, I’ll be emailing you shortly.)

He’s an authentic, brilliant, veteran entrepreneur who seems genuinely interested in those he’s talking to.

In his talk, he unpacks the “Boulder Thesis,” a framework for building entrepreneurial community based on what he’s seen and helped do in Boulder, Colo., expanded on in detail in his new book Startup Communities.

There are four principles to the Boulder Thesis:

  1. “Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.”
  2. “The leaders must have a long-term commitment.”
  3. “The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.”
  4. “The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.”

Here are some of the things that resonated with me directly from his talk with some comments of mine beside them:

  • Every city was a startup at one point — I had never thought of cities as startups, but some blossom and some don’t. It was neat to frame that in the discussion of entrepreneurial ventures. I always think back to our state’s history of the Oklahoma land runs especially in light of the opportunity I’ve had personally to stake my claim on the Internet and build a company solely online.
  • Cities with 100,000 people or more can support an entrepreneurial community like Boulder — Oklahoma City is right around 1.2 million so I’d say we qualify. We have great universities, super affordable housing and the best quality of life around IMHO.
  • In an entrepreneurial community there are two types of participants: leaders and feeders. In his book he writes, “Leaders of startup communities have to be entrepreneurs. Everyone else is a feeder into the startup community. Both leaders and feeders are important, but their roles are different.”
  • Most startup communities are relatively young (like two years or so) — Oklahoma City in the startup tech world is an infant. I’m not sure we’ve started walking yet.
  • There is no “boss” of startup communities. It’s a network not a hierarchy like government — this is a great point that I needed to be reminded of. It’s about the community, not your ego or your company or own interests. It needs leaders, but not people who dictate what happens to others.
  • He operates on the principle of “give before you get” and advocates the same — #BOOM Love this and have tried to do it liberally as a mentor to driven, budding entrepreneurs locally like James and Luke of GoldFire Studios, who are in the first class at Venture Spur.
  • To build a great startup culture, you need a group of 10+ entrepreneurs willing to make a commitment to build it for the next 20 years. He’s on year 17 in Boulder — we’ve got a great group already and it’s growing as we continue to connect and start building momentum together. Some of these include Sandip Patel, Phil Jackson, Luke Woodard, Greg Starling, Chris Bryers, Danny Maloney, among others, and a dozen more I haven’t met yet or don’t even know about.
  • Failure happens. It’s part of entrepreneurship. Accept it and move on. All of us have experienced it. Don’t hold it against those who have — I know Brad was speaking to several different groups during his time here and I’m glad we had a messenger of his success to share this reality. And it was good to know that if you’ve been an entrepreneur for any length of time you’re going to fail at some point.

The biggest takeaway though is: It’s about community and cooperation not competition.

Brad tells the story (in person and in his book) about two startup accelerator mentors who did not like each other previously. But through mentoring the same startup in TechStars became great friends and realized the walls between them weren’t really walls at all. He uses it as an illustration of what building the startup community can do for people.

For me, this is THE message we need to embrace in Oklahoma City (and in your city).

Too many times, we insulate ourselves. We focus just on our thing. And there is this invisible force field about reaching out or even talking to other entrepreneurs for fear (or pride) of competition.

It’s stupid. It’s selfish. It’s small. And yes, I’ve been guilty of it. But it doesn’t foster community. It doesn’t help the greater startup community grow. It stiffles something amazing and unique.

At one point, he mentioned that we should stop viewing each other as competition only but also as colleagues. It was a good word I hope we all heed here.

So if you’re looking to build entrepreneurial community in your city, go buy Startup Communities and check to see if Brad’s going to be in your town soon.

It’s worth a super late night and then a full day the next day connecting and building your startup community with fellow entrepreneurs who get it!

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2 thoughts on “How to Build a Startup Culture In Your City”

  1. Hey Cory, it was really great to meet you and your wife this past Wednesday night. Your post was awesome and was a great recap of Brad’s comments! Job well done. I really appreciate you and your contribution to the entrepreneur community here in Oklahoma City. Let’s keep making noise for OKC. I look forward to getting with you in the next week or so. Have a great weekend!


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